PICTURED: Three itty bitty ice cream servings from Rori’s in Camarillo: brown sugar banana (left), vanilla bean with caramel sauce and lemon curd. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
Keeping cool this summer isn’t so hard when you have so many wonderful, locally owned shops serving up edible air conditioning. Ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt and more — every corner of the county has something amazing to scoop onto a cone or pile into a bowl for your icy enjoyment. Here are a few of our top picks for beating the heat belly first.
Buttercups Cool Treats
1121 S. Victoria Ave., Oxnard
There’s frozen yogurt . . . and then there’s Buttercups.
This Oxnard-based business, founded by SoCal natives and beach lovers Marcie Mills and Bonnie Chick, is a Best of Ventura County winner every year . . . and it’s not hard to discover why. The frozen yogurt is of the highest quality: super creamy and fresh, with amazing flavor. Deep, rich chocolates; sweet, buttery nuts and caramels; orchard-fresh fruit blends; a wonderfully tart Greek yogurt that appeals to purists (and makes a wonderful base for more assertive toppings) — the options are seemingly unlimited and changed up on a regular basis. The vanilla custard alone is worth a trip — you’ll swear you’re eating soft serve ice cream, with a vanilla character that is deep and lingering. The selection varies, but you can count on having something gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and even low in sugar available nearly every day.
What people tend to love most about frozen yogurt, of course, are the toppings. Buttercups does not skimp on those — and has helpfully divided them into bottoms (why not start with a base of crushed cookies, graham crackers or Captain Crunch cereal?), tops (everything from brownie bites, granola and Cinnamon Toast Crunch to candies to yogurt chips), fruit (kiwi, mango, strawberry) and sauces (caramel, hot fudge marshmallow, peanut butter, strawberry and even balsamic vinegar).
The dizzying array of options may be a bit overwhelming at first, but just trust your instincts and have some fun! When in doubt, ask the friendly Buttercups staff, who have plenty of good ideas for tasty pairings. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, staff will do the work for you, but rest assured that they’ll make it your way without fail.
Also available: quarts and yogurt pies to take home, a selection of retro candies and sodas, and even some playful gifts and postcards. Every trip to Buttercups is a delicious adventure.
Leone’s Original Italian Ices
1696 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks
When it’s so hot that the sweat is pouring out and there’s no respite from the heat, what you need to do is cool down from the inside out. And few things are
as efficient at lowering the internal temperature as Italian ice. This slushy-popsicle hybrid is usually made with fresh fruit, sugar and water— making it lighter and more refreshing than traditional ice cream, with a consistency smoother than a snow cone but less creamy than a sherbet. It’s fruit flavor through-and-through, in a melt-in-your-mouth consistency nearly guaranteed to chill you at the core.
Leone’s Original Italian Ices, which opened in November 2020 in Thousand Oaks, offers more than two dozen water ices (free of fat, gluten and animal products), several créme ices (made with a touch of dairy) and frozen coffee drinks.
No matter which way your palate leans, there will be something perfect for it. Lemon, blood orange, key lime, rainbow and Hawaiian blast are mouth-puckering tart. Strawberry, watermelon, grape and cotton candy are sweeter. If you’re up for something tropical, try piña colada or mango. Spicy cherry is a favorite: made with Serrano peppers and cherries, it has a tongue-tingling zip.
When the mercury rises, head out to Leone’s, the self-described “Italian ice king of California,” and bow to His Majesty’s Arctic-emulating concoctions. Just take it easy on the intake to avoid a brain freeze.
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams of Ventura
3241 E. Main St., Ventura
This scoop shop on the corner of Main Street and Dunning in Midtown Ventura near the Pacific View Mall has been a local favorite since it opened in 2009.
Owner Jimmy Young proudly produces cones, sundaes, “melted witches” (a scoop in a cup, with the cone acting as a hat) and milkshakes made from the finest, purest, some might say very best ice cream on the Central Coast. The McConnell’s brand, established in 1949, hails from Santa Barbara, and emphasizes fresh, local ingredients: strawberries from Oxnard, lemon from Santa Paula, milk and cream from a dairy cooperative. You can taste that quality, whether you’re consuming Golden State vanilla, Eureka lemon and marionberry, Dutch chocolate or peppermint stick. And because there are wonderful sorbets and dairy-free options available, anyone and everyone can enjoy the all-natural pleasure of McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream.
After a lengthy closure during the pandemic, McConnell’s in Ventura is open once again (currently Thursday-Sunday, although that might change), and customers happily line up outside the historic Mission Bell building to get their fix of that old-fashioned ice cream that made the brand famous. While modern culinary techniques like flash-frozen desserts can be amusing to explore, sometimes you want a tried-and-true classic. And around these parts, it doesn’t get more classic than McConnell’s.
Rori’s Artisanal Creamery
2024 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo
Rori’s Artisanal Creamery started out as a cute little scoop shop in Montecito. Since then it has expanded to Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Santa Monica and most recently Long Beach.
Its Ventura County home is The Mark, the food hall in Old Town Camarillo that also houses Topa Topa Brewing Co. and Freda’s Woodfired Kitchen . . . drinks, dinner and dessert all in one! The smell of Freda’s brick-oven and classic New York-style pizzas wafting through the place will tempt you, but do yourself a favor and save some room, because you do not want to miss what owner Rori Trovato has churned up here.
Her creamy, fresh and delectable ice cream comes in a fabulous selection of flavors. There are classics like dark chocolate and vanilla bean, gourmet nods like honey lavender and black pepper pistachio, and some original creations like brown sugar banana and lemon curd. Tropical wild berry is a dairy-free burst of berry flavor made with coconut milk.
That’s just the tip of the ice cream sundae here, however.
Rori’s also makes its own hot fudge and caramel sauces, plus a special Nutella sauce. Toppings include candied pecans and cobbler crumble. There are shakes, malts, root beer floats, brownie sundae squares (pre-made for grab-and-go) and, of course, cones — including some that are gluten free.
Yes, all of these are wonderful. But the best things, in my humble opinion, are the ice cream sandwiches. Homemade cookies with a big scoop of ice cream in the middle — vegan and gluten-free options available. Pure handheld heaven.
Sanders and Sons Gelato
334 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
In Ojai and beyond, Sanders and Sons gelato is prized for its lush texture and phenomenal flavors. Owned by Sanders Marvin of Ojai, it is meant to pay homage to the artisanal ice creams and gelatos he and his family sampled on a trip to New York City. With locally sourced produce and eggs readily available, as well as dairy products from Marin County-based Straus Family Creamery, Marvin found all the inspiration and ingredients he needed to make an exceptionally luscious product.
Vida’s vanilla and Valrhona chocolate are two standards that defy the term with their deep, rich taste. More unusual options include golden milk (a sunny yellow blend with an earthy character, made with turmeric and perfumed with spice) and cardamon, saffron and rosewater. Pixie Had a Moment (flavored with Ojai Pixie tangerines) and Topa Topa Tin Roof (with a fudge ripple and chocolate-covered peanuts) are nods to icons of the Ojai Valley. Sanders and Sons switches up the menu on a regular basis, however, based on what’s fresh and in season, so there’s always a surprise in the making. Keep an eye out for fresh and fruity sorbets, like the excellent passionfruit.
The gelato is made in a certified micro dairy in Bryant Circle, and sold from the scoop shop at 334 West Ojai Avenue near Cluff Vista Park. Outside of Ojai, you can usually find Sanders and Sons at one of the local farmers markets. Pints aren’t cheap — $12 each, or three for $30 — but the quality is well worth the price.
And don’t forget…
Coastal Cone, 1583 Spinnaker Drive, #104, Ventura Harbor Village, 805-658-2837, www.coastalcone.com.
Ex Voto Chocolates and Confections, 2646 E. Main St.,Ventura, 805-667-9228, www.exvotochocolates.com.
La Frutileta Michoacana, 500 N. Ventura Ave., Suite B, Ventura, 805-667-9255
Palermo Coffee Bar, 321 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-643-3070, www.palermocoffee.com.
Papa Lennon’s Pizzeria, 515 W. El Roblar, Ojai, 805-640-7388, papalennons.com.
Surf n’ Yogurt, 1038 S. Seaward Ave., Ventura, 805-643-8808, www.surfnyogurt.com.
Tifa Chocolate and Gelato, locations across Ventura County, tifachocolateandgelato.com.